So how do you find a person that is missing or is a potential witness a potential defendant that needs to be served process and they’re not readily available? Well, there are a lot of ways to do what’s called a skip trace or to locate somebody who may be operating under an assumed name. Maybe they’re trying to go below the radar. And obviously, there’s a place that people will go that’s Google or online. That may seem like the “be all end all” of locating but in reality that’s not, that’s trying to put the work on somebody else. That’s not doing your own legwork. Even within the investigative profession, there are some advanced databases where you can put in a name and it’ll give you a list of some information, things like Lexus Nexus, TLO, or there are some other databases that are out there, but again that’s offloading the work that an investigator can do because in those scenarios you don’t know how good or bad the data is. There’s nothing magic about that data other than it’s a collection of records that some company put together and who knows if they got all the records or if they really cross-referenced one from another.
So if you are a person looking to locate a missing person, skip trace a hard-to-find witness, do old-fashioned legwork, and put some time into it. You don’t have to go out personally in the streets. But you can do research remotely, but you want to look at all of the different sources of records and cross-reference them. As an example, you can start by sending a registered letter to the address that you have. If you send a registered letter to the last known address and the person is there they will receive it. If they’re not there it may be forwarded. If it’s not forwarded you may get the letter back with a notation like moved to Arizona, moved here not here anymore left two years ago. You’ll get some feedback from it at least you know you attempted that address. Then you can try things like city directories and telephone directories.
Many times those will have an updated phone number or address or even email address. Before you try to call the email or phone number, don’t. Stop there and cross reference that if you find a phone number. Google search that phone number, and cross-reference that email, because you may find that that was used in other places. It might’ve been used on a website. It might’ve been used in a web form. We have found many many hard-to-find subjects who used their email address to post an advertisement in a classified that’s in a forum that might be two or three years old. And by doing that if you go look at that post, you’ll see a picture oh I’m selling this fender for a 65 Camaro. And in the back of the picture, you might see a building that might be recognizable. Take it to a further level than just the data, by itself, it is one dimensional. Cross-referencing it and going deeper is what investigators do. It’s just time put into it.
Another thing you can do is to interview people who are known to be at locations where this person was. If they worked at a building you interview maybe the property manager. If they worked at a company you might interview other employees. You might look at prior employers on LinkedIn and talk to people there to find out where did Joe go, Oh he’s worked at some other place after that. Maybe they’ll still work there but that’s your next level of research to find that person. If the person is a veteran, you may find interviews with veterans resources in their area that might be able to give you a pointer to where that person is. We had a case we worked on a long time ago where a woman was trying to find her father who had left the family when she was a young girl and come to find out he was homeless. And how do you find a homeless person? Well, that’s how it was located. The person was a former military member and he was accessing veteran’s resources in the area where he was homeless. And by talking to that veteran’s resource, they said yeah we know old Joe he a lot of times hangs out in this corner and that’s how he was located through that resource.
And that leads to the next one is by canvassing or talking to people in areas where the person is known or was known to be. It’s an old-fashioned shotgun approach where you’re just talking to a lot of people and 90% of them are never going to know who that person is, but one person might say yeah I think I remember that guy from a long time ago, he used to go to that store all the time or he used to always drive a red car and these pieces of information when you start putting them together will add up to be a bigger picture.
Then you can start looking at business connections. Where did they do business? Did they frequent a store did they buy their cigarettes at the corner store? If they were in a business where do they buy their materials? Did they hire employees from a temp agency? The other common element is medical providers. Everybody has a doctor and a dentist, even if it’s an emergency room even if it’s not somebody they go to for an annual checkup, but they do go to some medical facility many times. If it’s a legal case you can access those records through a subpoena of Medicare Medicaid, and find out who the doctor is, and sometimes those records will have forwarding addresses.
Next, you can take a look at other institutions such as schools or churches. If somebody is a member of an organization or attending an organization, there may be somebody there who knows them and sent him a Christmas card or kept in contact with them or knows whether Facebook pages. Speaking of vehicles, you can file a freedom of information act request with the department of motor vehicles called the DPPA form and get an address of where their vehicles are registered. Almost everybody has a vehicle registered even a lot of homeless people have a registered vehicle. So if you know the name, you can run that name through the DMV and it’ll give you a vehicle a tag number, and an address but you have to file a certain form.
A lot of people even though they’re off the grid will still vote and election records will show what precinct they voted in and that can help narrow down the geographic location. If the person is more down on their luck, you may find welfare records or even police records associated with the person. Most police records are public. So if you search a name and arrest records, it’ll show a mugshot and show a date. A lot of times it will show the last known address or other people involved with that incident or that occurrence. Of course, there are vital records things as marriage records birth records and even death records. So you find out if a person is deceased, that ends your search right there. And those can be obtained through the vital records division of most states. And that’s going to be the hard part finding out which state to search in or you can search a number of states.
If the person’s known to be in a certain geographic region, again if the person is down on their luck, you may find that their judgments or liens against them, those are recorded in public records at the courthouse. You’re not going to find this in a Google search, but if you do diligent research on the primary record source at the courthouse, you may find records that have other information, the name of their attorney, their address at the time, sometimes a phone number or an email address. If the person is not down on their luck and they’re a little more affluent, you might find memberships in social clubs or athletic clubs. We had a person who, was a subject of a lawsuit and they were trying to get served with a subpoena and nobody could find them. Well, come to find out they were a member of a tennis club on the other side of the country. And they had come in third at a tennis tournament and their name was posted in the newsletter for the tennis club that they had come in third. Well, the tennis club also posted its schedule for upcoming events. We just waited for the next event and they were there and they were easy to serve process. It’s just that you have to know where to look. Sometimes you’ll find, information on a credit report although a credit report is something that’s more difficult to get but if you have the proper legal authority on a credit report, it will show you different things like car loans credit cards, and maybe locations where credit is being used it can help narrow down your search for the person.
So, the moral of the story is if you’re looking for a hard-to-find subject for a subpoena for a judgment, or even for a skip trace, don’t just rely on an electronic Google search. It’s easy to put in a name and push a button, but it’s easy because it doesn’t have the same depth and dimensions of information that you can get from doing more primary records research. And that’s even without going out and pounding the pavement and talking to people in the field, usually, it doesn’t resort to that but at least do more than just putting the name in and pushing a button whether it’s Google TLO Lexus Nexus, or anything else. Do your work and you’ll find the person a lot higher percentage of the time than just running white pages or an info 411 record search.
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